Written and Directed by Lee Isaac Chung | 115 min | Amazon Prime, On Demand
What’s special about this picture is how it manages to nail a certain universality. Based on the filmmaker’s own childhood memories, it’s the story of a Korean family in the 1980s moving into a mobile home in a field in Arkansas.
Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) has a dream of a farm and is prepared to work hard to achieve it. His wife Monica (Yeri Han) is entirely unimpressed, and much of the conflict in the movie comes from whether she’s willing to go along with his outrageous ambitions. She wants the family to be closer to a town, to the American suburban dream, not this rural fantasy. But Jacob pushes back, hard.
They’ve also got two kids, Anne (Noel Cho) and younger David (Alan S. Kim). When Monica’s mother, Soon-ja (Yuh-jung Youn), comes from Korea to live with them, David is entirely resistant to this old lady in the house, but their sometime fraught relationship eventually becomes the most important in the film.
While it’s an impressive effort, it isn’t a perfect film. Chung casts Will Patton as a local farmer who takes a shine to Jacob, but Patton’s religious fervour and general eccentricities don’t ring nearly as authentic as the depiction of the Yi family.
But, back to that sense of universality. The immigrant experience to America is frequently told through the prism of urban poverty and privation, but there’s something about what we get with Minari, even with its unusual setting, that feels especially relatable. It has something to do with the way DP Lachlan Milne shoots it, taking care to show the beauty of the surroundings through David’s young eyes. There’s also a lovely, light humour amidst the sometimes difficult family drama that helps carry the day.